The deluge of email

A friend once joked that product management is 20% talking and 80% email. Even with modern collaboration tools like Slack, most PMs I know still send and receive lots of email.

Ken Norton in “How I Manage My Inbox

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Most days on the job, I feel like all I do is reply to an endless barrage of emails. But I guess that’s what product management comes down to essentially – making sure all the stakeholders involved are in the loop of every decision you make. In the beginning, I didn’t see the importance of really documenting every single conversation, but I soon realized that it was a necessary evil.

Firstly, it introduces accountability. If you have committed to something or if other people have, then putting it down in writing gives more weight to the commitment. Secondly, people have short memories. Having this stuff written down means you always have a trustworthy source of information to look up when you need to. And finally, when you join or leave a company, the whole “knowledge transfer” process gets much easier when your email is properly organized and archived.

These are a few ways that I have set up my own inbox. Now, I’m a little anal because I can’t stand those Inbox (29) notifications… which means they need to go and they need to go fast.

  1. I use Gmail filters extensively so that I don’t have to look at build updates or JIRA tickets unless I want to. They get marked as read immediately.
  2. I don’t like to Star emails since I think they just go completely off my radar – I prefer to keep those emails I have to respond to as unread. It annoys the crap out of me, which makes me reply to the mails much sooner.
  3. Boomerang is a great tool because half the time asks from the PM are routinely ignored unless you actively follow up. If it weren’t for this, I’d have to dig into my Sent mails more often than I’d like to. Another feature from Gmail Labs I can’t get enough of is the Undo option. I might be an idiot, but I have this habit of accidentally sending out mails when I’m only halfway through. Being able to hit Undo when I do this is a godsend.
  4. Finally, I use SaneBox for my personal email. So far, I love it. I can’t be bothered to unsubscribe to all the promotional emails I get (the downsides of having a really old email account), but SaneBox makes sure I don’t have to see any of them (nor do I get notified of them). Every week, I have a quick glance at all the mails that are brushed under the rug to make sure nothing important goes into that black hole. SaneBox is smart and learns from your actions; it honestly saves me a ton of time.

I don’t think I would go as far as far as Cal Newport though who believes email is the bane of modern existence. Email is just a tool, how you use it is upto you as an individual. Could the tool be improved? Sure. But until then, all of us slaves to email need to make the best of it.

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